Revealing the pulmonary surfactant corona on silica nanoparticles by cryo-transmission electron microscopy†
When inhaled, nanoparticles (NPs) deposit in alveoli and transit through the pulmonary surfactant (PS), a biofluid made of proteins and phospholipid vesicles. They form a corona reflecting the PS–nanomaterial interaction. Since the corona determines directly the NPs' biological fate, the question of its nature and structure is central. Here, we report on the corona architecture formed after incubation of positive or negative silica particles with Curosurf®, a biomimetic pulmonary surfactant of porcine origin. Using optical, electron and cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-TEM), we determine the pulmonary surfactant corona structure at different scales of observation. Contrary to common belief, the PS corona is not only constituted by phospholipid bilayers surrounding NPs but also by multiple hybrid structures derived from NP–vesicle interaction. Statistical analysis of cryo-TEM images provides interesting highlights about the nature of the corona depending on the particle charge. The influence of Curosurf® pre- or post-treatment is also investigated and demonstrates the need for protocol standardization.